After the Deadline - Ruby Wrapper

For school this semester, I am exploring the static analysis of web sites as a means of user acceptance testing. In the world of web development, all of your hard work and time invested in a project means nothing if your users have a poor experience. When it comes to testing a web site, acceptance testing gets the least amount of attention and actually can cause the most amount of damage. There are a number of tools available to aid in the writing and executing unit, functional, and integration tests, but the burden lies on individuals over tools when it comes to proofreading content and examining the structure and appearance of a web site.

In one part of this project, I am looking at the content of a web page and want to feed the text through some sort of spell checker. I started working with Aspell at first, but I was a little disappointed with the built-in dictionary and capabilities of the service. Instead, I decided to work with After the Deadline. After the Deadline is a cool new spelling, style, and grammar checker that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to detect errors in your text. AtD is an open source service that has an easy to use web interface and is gaining a lot of exposure through its TinyMCE, WordPress, and Firefox extensions.

For my project, I have written a little Ruby wrapper on top of the web service to make it easier to work with. The source code is available at: I plan on creating some helper methods to integrate AtD with Ruby’s testing framework, so watch my GitHub repository for future updates.

2009 Reading List

A little over a year ago, I started using the "Reading List by Amazon" application inside LinkedIn to track the books I read. I may have forgotten to add a book or two, but here is the list of books I read and logged last year:

  • Magnificent Failure: Free Fall from the Edge of Space by Craig Ryan
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • The Bancroft Strategy by Robert Ludlum
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly
  • Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore
  • The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
  • The Pixar Touch by David A. Price
  • The Merchants' War: Book Four of the Merchant Princes by Charles Stross
  • The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush, Larry Sloman
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Parachute And Its Pilot: The Ultimate Guide For The Ram-Air Aviator by Brian Germain
  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
  • Wireless by Charles Stross
  • The Cobweb by Neal Stephenson, J. Frederick George
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  • The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development by Chad Fowler
  • Deja Dead: 10th Anniversary Edition (Temperance Brennan Novels) by Kathy Reichs
  • Pirate Latitudes: A Novel by Michael Crichton

I have already finished one book this year, with two other started, a stack of 12 waiting to be read, and a few Borders gift cards waiting to be spent. This should be a good year for reading :-)

First Trip to a Wind Tunnel

Steph and I split an hour in the SkyVenture Arizona wind tunnel this afternoon. It was amazing - a ton of fun. We took turns learning how to backfly properly with coaching from Jon Walker. He is a great coach who knows when to step in and when to let you work things out for yourself.

We also made our first skydive away from Skydive Chicago, closing the year out with 105 total jumps for me, and 79 for Steph.

More details of our trips coming when we get home :-)

Backflying at SkyVenture Arizona (Michael)

30 minutes in the tunnel, broken down into 4 videos:

Backflying at SkyVenture Arizona (Stephanie)

Thanksgiving in D.C.

We just got back from spending the Thanksgiving holiday in Washington, D.C. The twelve hour drive across five states went by surprisingly quickly. I've come to discover that there are only a small number of distinct landscapes in this country when traveling by highway. Driving into the nations capital was like driving into any other major city I've been to. The main reason behind our trip was to spend time with my sister and see our new nephew! Trey wasn't coming home from the hospital until Friday evening, so we were able to get some sightseeing in on Thursday and Friday.

Most of Thursday was spent re-learning board games from our childhood. It is fun to watch my niece grow up and be able to teach me the rules to Uno, Chutes and Ladders, and Pirate-opoly (and watch how creative she is in trying to cheat at said games). In the evening we walked around Georgetown. It being Thanksgiving, most of the stores were closed, but we did enjoy some Häagen-Daz ice cream and walked around the Old Stone House. The night ended with a large feast that provided enough leftovers for the weekend and beyond.

We got an earlier start on Friday, taking the metro to downtown D.C. Our first stop was the National Air and Space Museum. I could have easily spent an entire day walking around the museum taking in all the information they had to offer, but our time was limited. We then proceeded down towards the Washington Monument, where wind gusts over 50 miles per hour were threatening to make little children into flying projectiles. The freak wind/rain storm lasted only a short while. By the time we were passing the World War II memorial the storm was winding down. The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was completely drained, so the ambiance of the walk between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial was taken down a notch. After a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, we proceeded to the White House, making stops at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. The view of the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue is quite restrictive; from street level, you can only see the North Portico. Leaving the White House behind, we traveled to the International Spy Museum. The gift shop alone convinced me to purchase tickets for the self-guided tour of the museum. Upon entering, you are asked to memorize details about a cover identity. You are tested on your recall shortly after and at the end of the tour. Needless to say, both Stephanie and I were recommended for further duty. The exhibits in the Spy Museum kept on coming. There were training videos and computer programs throughout to increase your skills as a spy; spy gear throughout the ages, cryptography information, famous celebrity spies, a fully tricked out Aston Martin DB5 from the James Bond series, and much more.

The rest of the trip was spent relaxing with the family, playing board games, and getting to know our new nephew! Some pictures from our trip are up on my Flickr account in the Washington, D.C. set (note: most pictures are from the National Air and Space Museum; unfortunately, the International Spy Museum didn't allow photography).

Stephanie and I have a busy month ahead of us with trips to Texas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Arizona planned before the year ends.